Newlywed couples generally don’t begin their marriage saying, “Gee, I hope we get divorced in a few years!” Everyone wants their marriage to last forever, but sadly statistics show that about 40-50% of marriages end in divorce. Fortunately, there is more you can do than just hope for the best and cross your fingers when it comes to staying married! Whether you are still single or already married, you can takes steps right now to build the foundation for a healthy and lasting marriage.
These words of advice require a lot of commitment and hard work, but they will give your marriage far better odds of survival than wishful thinking!
1. Make the Decision in Advance That Divorce Is Not an Option
This one is really critical, and it boils down to taking your wedding vows and commitment seriously. When you vow “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness, and in health; ‘till death do us part,” mean it. Even though there are plenty of great times in marriage, know in advance that there will be times of “worse,” "poorer,” and “sickness,” and be committed enough (and perhaps even stubborn enough!) to stick it out through those seasons.
For those who are still single, make the decision (today) that you will stay married, no matter what, even before you meet your spouse. Make it a non-negotiable value in your life, and marry someone who is committed to doing the same. No, you don’t know in advance what twists and turns life will bring. You don’t know if you’ll feel “in love” forever. But you can make the conscious choice to love forever, regardless of what changes come your way. If you haven’t made the decision in advance, it will be far too easy to give up on your spouse and your marriage when the going gets tough.
2. Be Quick to Forgive
Some offenses are certainly easier to forgive than others, but the sooner you can make a decision to let go of your negative feelings towards your spouse, the happier your marriage will be. If your spouse has done something serious to hurt you, it may take time to build back trust, but begin as soon as possible to treat them with kindness again. Put the past in the past, and especially if they have asked for forgiveness and show a sense of remorse, don’t continue to bring up the past grievance each time there is an argument. If it’s a small thing, just brush it off and move on. We all have bad days, mood swings, blood sugar dips, etc. Life’s too short to dwell on the petty!
3. Do Not Be Unequally Yoked
Singles pay attention to this one! This is a Biblical principle (found in 2 Corinthians 6:14) that refers to oxen being “yoked” together to share the workload. Contextually, it means that you shouldn’t be joined together in a partnership (such as marriage) with someone that doesn’t share your same religious views. Marrying someone of a conflicting worldview or faith is bound to cause serious problems in how you do life together, how you handle problems, how you raise children, etc.
If you are already married, you don’t get a re-do on this one, especially if your goal is to stay married. But if you find yourself in an unequally-yoked situation, do your part to minimize the gap. You can’t change your spouse, but you can pray for him or her. Trust God to do a work in his or her life and to bring unity between the two of you.
You can also work to change things about yourself (assuming you don’t violate your code of morals and ethics) to come closer in line with your spouse. Seek to understand where they’re coming from, and when possible, aim to minimize the gap. Pray for God to work in your own heart to show you what changes you may need to make in yourself to become more united with your spouse.
4. 100/100 Not 50/50
In a successful marriage, both partners should expect and seek to give 100% of the effort to the marriage. If you hold the view that marriage should be 50/50, with each partner contributing equally, neither partner will ever be satisfied. One spouse will always feel like they are doing more than their fair share. But if each one seeks to give 100%, not only is that the expectation you place on yourself, but you won’t be disappointed when your spouse isn’t holding up his or her end.
The reality of it is, at any given time, one spouse probably will be giving more than the other. Through life’s ebbs and flows, circumstances will change, and you’ll each share different portions of the burdens. Keep focused on what you can contribute, and don’t worry so much about what you’re getting in return. Even if your spouse becomes lax in his or her efforts, if you maintain an attitude of giving, you will be happier in the long run.
5. Put Your Spouse's Needs Above Your Own
An attitude of humility in marriage goes a long way. The less you are concerned with yourself, your own needs, and your own desires, the better your marriage will be. This of course works best when both spouses are doing this for each other, but sometimes that’s just the point—you should worry more about what you can do for them, than what they can do for you.
If you're sharing a dessert with your spouse, offer them the last bite. If the two of you are deciding on a movie or a restaurant, pick the one you know your spouse would prefer, even if it's not your favorite. My husband has been a great role model for me in this area, as looking out for the interests of others, admittedly, does not come naturally to me! Because of the example and inspiration of my husband, I feel motivated to do the same for him.
Even if your spouse is not so selfless, seek to be the person in the marriage who always wants to give the best to your spouse without worrying about what you will get in return. You may be surprised at how your spouse responds to your kindness down the road with reciprocation that they’ve picked up from your example.
6. Wives: Respect Your Husbands
Men need to feel respected, and each man may vary in what makes him feel respected. The more respected husbands feel, the more easily they are able to love their wives in return. Sometimes I’m surprised by the things my husband finds respectful or disrespectful, and as I learn more about his needs, I do my best to incorporate that knowledge in how I treat him (though I definitely fail at times!) This isn’t to say that wives don’t also want some basic respect, but men in particular are wired in such a way to really need this.
Below are a few practical ways wives can show respect to their husbands:
- Listen to and implement his suggestions on how to do things.
- Speak encouraging words and let him know when he’s done well at something.
- Keep a tidy, comfortable house.
- Always speak of him in the positive; never talk about him in the negative to anyone, especially other family members or friends.
- Cook his favorite meals.
- Show interest in things that he does.
- Pray for him.
- Speak up and share your opinion with him on various issues (respectfully, of course!) Men want to know how they can make their wives happy, and they also value her intuition and opinion in decision making.
- Ask him other ways that make him feel respected, and seek to carry those out.
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Husbands: Love Your Wives
Just as men need to feel respected, women have a particular need to feel loved. When one or the other is out of balance, a train wreck can happen within the marriage! Take the first step (husband or wife) in breaking the cycle, and do your part.
A few suggestions for the men on how to love your wives:
- Smile at her.
- Give her hugs and kisses.
- Verbally show your appreciation for things that she does.
- Surprise her once in a while with small gifts (flowers, etc.).
- Spend some undistracted time with her.
- Ask her other ways that make her feel loved, and seek to carry those out.
8. "We," Not "Me"
When you are joined in marriage with your spouse, the two of you become one. There should no longer be language of “mine” and “yours,” but rather “ours.” This takes some getting used to at first, and can feel like trying to run a three-legged race! But this merging of lives is crucial for a successful life together. Combine your finances and possessions, and work as a team to build a shared budget.
If you have things you don’t want to share with your spouse or future spouse, you will need to work through that struggle in order to experience complete oneness with your husband or wife. A marriage is a union of two people building a shared life together. If you’re still trying to live separate lives with separate stuff, that is called being “roommates.”
9. Be Married to Your Spouse and Nothing (or No One) Else
People can be “married” to many things other than their spouses: their job, their friends, their hobbies, their addictions. Seek to put your spouse above all these other things, and give him or her the attention they deserve. Whenever possible, limit your time with your other commitments, especially if you sense that it is causing problems with your spouse. Growing old with the person you vowed to love is worth so much more than any of these other things.
It should go without saying that you should remain faithful to your spouse in the area of sex and extra-marital affairs, emotionally and physically. Nip any temptations in the bud before they ever have a chance to come to fruition. But even if you or your spouse has failed in this area, know that this does not automatically have to mean divorce. As far as it depends on you, fight for your marriage! Whether this means offering forgiveness, or repenting of your poor choices and asking your spouse for forgiveness, do what it takes to reconcile. If you are both willing to work through this painful trial, you can save your marriage. If you need to seek help, seek help. If you and your spouse need to move to another city, away from a source of temptation, do it!
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10. Put Your Faith in God, Not Each Other
Assuming that you have married a human, your spouse will disappoint you at times. They will be selfish, and they will lose their temper. And you know what? You will disappoint them, you will be selfish, and you will lose your temper. We’re all human, and we’re not perfect.
The Bible says that God created both people and marriage (Gen 1:26, 2:18-25), so it would make sense that our hope and faith should be in Him, not in each other. The Scriptures tell us that He can change hearts, heal hurts, and restore what is broken. (Ezekiel 36:26, Psalm 147:3) He can also forgive our offenses and help us forgive the misdeeds of our spouse. (1 John 1:9)
If you put all your hope and trust in your husband or wife, you will be disappointed. He or she will never satisfy your every need, because only God can. (Philippians 4:19) Seek Him for a strong and healthy marriage, and do what is right as far as you are able.
Marriage is a beautiful thing, full of joys, tender moments, excitements, and love. But let’s face it: marriage is hard! It takes a lot of energy, sacrifice, and teamwork to be successful “‘till death do us part.”
Having realistic expectations of each other in marriage; an attitude of respect, service, and humility toward one another; and a die-hard commitment to keeping the promises you made to your spouse on your wedding day will see you through the tough days of marriage.
Cherish your spouse, and enjoy the good seasons; know that the rough patches will not last forever. With a lot of hard work, prayer, and patience, you can live happily ever after with the love of your life!